Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Media Diet Update

I am at the halfway point in my week of self-imposed media blackout. So far I've been by and large successful, although it's not really been a blackout. I've cheated a couple of times--the website for Fort Worth's newspaper, the Star-Telegram, pulled me in on two occasions, both for local stories I felt might be important. One was about an elderly man who had gone missing (thought I might know him) and the other was about a police raid on a gay bar. I couldn't resist that one.

I've done my best to avoid the news flashes in the elevators at work, and haven't stopped to watch any ESPN while I get my cup of tea in the kitchen. But today I did look on the Wall Street Journal website because a friend wanted me to look at the Home of the Week, which of course is a $3.75 mansion in Las Vegas. She does aim high. I scanned the headlines, but swear I didn't open anything.

As I expected, it's been other people who have brought me news. "Did you hear Billy Mays died?" my nine year-old asked me when we talked the other night. The fact that my kids know the name of the yelling pitchman should probably be a cause of concern for me, but since their grandparents are cable news junkies, they are seeing a lot more than usual, as their dad doesn't have cable television and I limit what they watch, so I am going to put that worry aside for now.

Last evening we had a social gathering at work, and I was telling a few people about my experiment. Earlier in the day, my boss had pointed out, rather sagely, that I'd already conducted the experiment last week, since it wasn't like any of us got any actual news during the media circus that accompanied the death of Michael Jackson. During the cocktail hour later, though, one of my colleagues chastised me: "There's so much coming out! You're missing it all!" I asked her why I should think it was important to me. "It's all just so interesting." I smiled and nodded.

I want to stay informed. But somehow we're in a place (and perhaps it was ever thus) where we've gone from watching Iranians protesting in the streets one week to dissecting the life of a very strange, albeit very talented, pop star the next.

Today, I thought about how cable news outlets, much like soap operas used to uniquely do, succeed because they help people fill time. But I want to do a lot more than that. As Randy Pausch, the Carnegie Mellon professor said in his famous Last Lecture, we must constantly ask ourselves, "Is this the best and highest use of my time?"

I'm off to dinner with a friend, and then I'm coming home to get in my new and marvelously comfortable bed, where I will read another chapter in a wonderful novel that has me under its spell. So for this evening at least, the answer to Dr. Pausch's question is yes.

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